Democrats are on the verge of passing a major bill that will attack the climate crisis, expand healthcare, slow down inflation, reduce the deficit, and even deal with tax evasion. In order to get all fifty Democratic senators to support the bill, a piece of the bill that would have raised taxes on a small number of very wealthy people was dropped. It’s a classic example of the way money corrupts American politics. From The New York Times:
Once again, carried interest carried the day.
The last-minute removal by Senate Democrats of a provision in the climate and tax legislation that would narrow what is often referred to as the “carried interest loophole” represents the latest win for the private equity and hedge fund industries. For years, those businesses have successfully lobbied to kill bills that aimed to end or limit a quirk in the tax code that allows executives to pay lower tax rates than many of their salaried employees.
In recent weeks, it appeared that the benefit could be scaled back, but a last-minute intervention by Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat, eliminated what would have been a $14 billion tax increase targeting private equity.
Lawmakers’ inability to address a tax break that Democrats and some Republicans have called unfair underscores the influence of lobbyists for the finance industry and how difficult it can be to change the tax code….
On Friday, the private equity and hedge fund industries applauded the development, describing it as a win for small business [of course they did].
“The private equity industry directly employs over 11 million Americans, fuels thousands of small businesses and delivers the strongest returns for pensions,” said Drew Maloney, the chief executive of the American Investment Council, a lobbying group. “We encourage Congress to continue to support private capital investment in every state across our country”….
Carried interest is the percentage of an investment’s gains that a private equity partner or hedge fund manager takes as compensation. At most private equity firms and hedge funds, the share of profits paid to managers is about 20 percent [so the people who manage these small investment firms take around 20% of the firm’s investment profits as their salaries, not because they invested their own money but because they expect to be paid for their labor].
Under existing law, that money is taxed at a capital-gains rate of 20 percent for top earners. That’s about half the rate of the top individual income tax bracket, which is 37 percent….
An agreement reached last week by Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, would have [made it more harder for the managers of these firms] to take advantage of the lower 20 percent tax rate.
But Ms. Sinema, who has received political donations from wealthy financiers who usually donate to Republicans and who was cool to the idea of targeting carried interest last year, objected.
In the past five years, the senator has received $2.2 million in campaign contributions from investment industry executives and political action committees, according to OpenSecrets, a nonprofit group that tracks money in politics. The industry was second only to retired individuals in giving to Ms. Sinema and just ahead of the legal profession, which gave her $1.8 million. Executives of some of those firms have made campaign contributions to Ms. Sinema, including George Roberts, Henry Kravis and Joseph Bae at KKR and Sean Klimczak and Eli Nagler at Blackstone.
For years, carried interest has been a tax policy piñata that never cracks open.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, D____ J. T____ said, “We will eliminate the carried interest deduction, well-known deduction, and other special-interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors and for people like me but unfair to American workers.”
When President Biden ran for president in 2020, his campaign said he would “eliminate special tax breaks that reward special interests and get rid of the capital gains loophole for multimillionaires.” To do that, he said, he would tax long-term capital gains at the ordinary top income tax rate, essentially wiping away the special treatment of carried interest.
A similar proposal appeared in Mr. Biden’s budget last spring, but, as Democrats tried unsuccessfully to pass their Build Back Better legislation in the summer and fall, carried interest disappeared.
Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, lamented that outcome. “This is a loophole that absolutely should be closed,” Mr. Bernstein told CNBC last September. “When you go up to Capitol Hill and you start negotiating on taxes, there are more lobbyists in this town on taxes than there are members of Congress”….
Opinions on the carried interest tax treatment vary even within the financial industry. In posts on Twitter in late July, Bill Ackman, the founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, a New York hedge fund, said that while “favorable tax treatment” for the founders of new businesses was essential, people who manage funds that own many companies should not be entitled to the same benefit.
“The carried interest loophole is a stain on the tax code,” he wrote in one post. “It does not help small businesses, pension funds, other investors in hedge funds or private equity and everyone in the industry knows it. It is an embarrassment and it should end now.”
Some analysts were skeptical all along that lawmakers would actually change the carried interest tax treatment in the final bill. While it has become a high-profile target, the change Democrats were seeking would have raised little tax revenue compared with other provisions in the legislation, known as the Inflation Reduction Act….
“The proposal that was in the bill until last night made a technical adjustment [regarding] assets that qualified for carried interest treatment,” said Jean Ross, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group in Washington. “A better approach would tackle the issue head-on and say that compensation for services managing an investment fund should be taxed like work and subject to ordinary tax rates”….
Ms. Sinema herself has said little about why she considered it so important to preserve the carried interest tax treatment [could that possibly mean she has no good reason for doing that?]. She has said that she plans to work on legislation with Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, to address the loophole. But if the legislation is not included in the current package, which is being fast-tracked under an arcane budget process, any reform will require support from at least 10 Republicans [which everyone, including Sinema, knows will mean nothing is done, since Republican politicians don’t like rich people to be taxed].
“I think we reached agreement that there are areas where there’s been abuse,” Mr. Warner said in an interview, adding, “I’m disappointed it didn’t get in this bill, but I’m looking forward to working with Senator Sinema — and others — to see if we can address this [news flash: you can’t and you won’t address it].
To summarize, if you’re an accountant that works at one of these firms, you get a salary and pay income tax at the rate for regular income. If you’re a customer at one of these firms and your investment did well, the profits you get are taxed at the lower rate for capital gains. If you run the firm, you take some of the profits from your customers’ investments as your compensation, but the government taxes your compensation as if you made the investment with your own money, so you get to pay significantly less income tax. If Democrats try to fix this absurdity, Republicans and even some Democrats will stand in the way, while you claim that your compensation should be taxed at the lower rate because, well, because your customers get the lower rate and the investments you make help other businesses (while sometimes destroying others).
Which shows once again that too many politicians work for their donors, not the people they represent.